The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today released its 20th Annual Report documenting country conditions in, and analyzing and recommending U. S. policy initiatives toward, the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.
USCIRF, as an independent, bi-partisan commission, advises the President, Congress and the Secretary of State on international religious freedom issues. In its Annual Report, USCIRF describes threats to religious freedom around the world and recommends to the State Department countries for designation as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations.” USCIRF also recommends to the State Department that non-state actors cited for similarly severe violations be designated as “entities of particular concern” (EPCs). This year, USCIRF has recommended 16 countries for CPC designation and five entities for EPC designation. Also, USCIRF placed 12 countries on its Tier 2 list, meaning the violations meet one or two, but not all three, of the elements of the systematic, ongoing, egregious test for CPC status.
“In addition to insights on religious freedom conditions in these 28 countries, the Annual Report provides actionable policy recommendations for Congress and the Administration to help improve conditions abroad where people are being persecuted for their religion or belief,” said USCIRF Chair Tenzin Dorjee. “Our goal is not only to call out the offenders, but to provide concrete actions for the U.S. government to take in working with these countries to get off our lists.”
The 16 countries USCIRF recommended for CPC designation include 10 that the State Department so designated in November 2018 – Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan – as well as six others that the State Department has not designated – Central African Republic (CAR), Nigeria, Russia, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
The 12 countries on USCIRF’s Tier 2 list are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, and Turkey.
The five entities recommended for EPC designation include the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Shabab in Somalia, and new to the list this year, the Houthis in Yemen and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Syria.
“The freedom to believe as one’s conscience dictates is a fundamental human right and vital to the security, stability and economic vitality of any state or region,” said Dorjee. “In the past year, we have seen severe violations of religious freedom mount around the globe, from the imprisonment of individuals charged with blasphemy in several countries to the internment of over one million Uighur Muslims in China. We and others labouring in the realm of religious freedom must persevere in our efforts to make this right a reality for everyone, everywhere.”
The freedom to believe as one’s conscience dictates is a fundamental human right and vital to the security, stability and economic vitality of any state or region
RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE ADMINISTRATION
• Appoint a Special Adviser to the President on International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council (NSC) staff, as outlined by IRFA;
• Develop a government-wide strategy for promoting religious freedom abroad;
• Prepare action plans for specific countries; and
• Establish an interagency working group to oversee implementation;
• Increase the use of targeted sanctions against specific officials, agencies, and military units for severe religious freedom violations, including visa denials under section 604(a) of IRFA (section 212(a)(2)(G) of the Immigration and Nationality Act) and visa denials and asset freezes under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and Executive Order 13818;
• Ensure that the State Department and USAID sponsor programs to assist countries in developing school textbooks, curricula, and teacher training materials that accurately portray religious groups; promote tolerance, pluralism, and respect for the human rights—including religious freedom—of all individuals; and do not contain language urging hatred, discrimination, or violence; and
• Allocate funding through the State Department’s Antiterrorism Assistance Program and relevant U.S. Department of Defense programs to train and equip local officials and communities to protect places of worship and other holy sites, especially in countries where such sites face a high risk of attack.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO CONGRESS
• Hold annual oversight hearings on the implementation of IRFA and the Frank Wolf Act, as well as hearings on religious freedom issues, and raise religious freedom and cases of religious prisoners of conscience in country-specific hearings and ambassadorial confirmation hearings;
• Examine, during delegation trips abroad, conditions for persons of all faiths and beliefs or none, including by meeting with religious communities, religious freedom advocates, and prisoners held for their religion or belief or their religious freedom advocacy; and
• Participate in the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project, through which Members of Congress advocate on behalf of prisoners of conscience abroad, and the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief, an informal, global network of legislators working to counter persecution and promote religious freedom.